EA-18G in flight

Weapons Division bringing speed to the fleet

A youthful workforce is contributing to a cultural refresh at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) with an emphasis on speed and efficiency in delivering new capabilities to the fleet.

With $1.7 billion in new orders in fiscal 2018 and a third of its 6,000-member civilian workforce hired in the previous five years, the division has experienced tremendous growth, NAWCWD Executive Director Joan Johnson said Wednesday at the 2019 Sea Air Space expo.

In addition, more than half of that workforce has 10 years or less of experience, so they “are basically digital natives who think different, solve problems differently and move with the speed of technology,” Johnson said. “And we’re seeing really positive changes, especially in terms of being able to respond rapidly to needs because of that thinking.”

Johnson briefed several recent speed-to-fleet projects undertaken by NAWCWD, including the BATWING antenna, which increases the range of the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System installed on EA-16G Growlers, Johnson said.

Given a two-year project schedule in 2017, the team was able to achieve initial operating capability in just four months.

The use of 3-D printers “was important in speeding up our lead-up time to initial flight test, because it enabled us to turn variations of the design around in hours and days instead of weeks and months,” Johnson said.

Johnson also credited empowerment from leadership and, after overcoming some initial angst, a willingness by the BATWING team to assume risk.

“It’s the risk to the warfighter [that matters]. If the warfighter doesn’t have this, we have put them in a disadvantageous point,” she said. “When the mindset shifts from think about risk to the warfighter and not risk to my schedule, you get very different outcomes from a team.”

NAWCWD is also developing a multi-agent trajectory planner (MTP) which combines two numerical techniques into a “one-of-a-kind algorithm,” Johnson said.

“We’ve seen a lot of trajectory planners that can do obstacle avoidance and other types of things, but they haven’t taken into account the actual aerocharacteristics of the agents that have to fly it,” Johnson said. “Because it’s a very flexible, rigorous framework, we can optimize trajectories for coordinated time of arrival.”

What began as a research project resulted in a demonstration at the Yuma range with an objective—set by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—to achieve coordinated time-of-arrival (CTOA) with winds of up to 25 knots, no communication between vehicles during flight, and very limited velocity control, Johnson said.

Utilizing four Tigershark unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the demonstration exceeded all objectives, with all agents arriving within 250 milliseconds of each other, “so we consider that a success,” she said.

The MTP has myriad applications in addition to weapons and UAS, and NAWCWD is exploring how to leverage the algorithm for future autonomous systems, Johnson said.

“What we’re trying to do is build something that’s agnostic to how you want to apply it, because we see many, many applications and that’s the feedback we’re getting from our sponsors,” she added.

Johnson said NAWCWD has also shaved two years off the original plan to develop a 21-inch rocket motor by building and demonstrating the first three prototypes in-house.

“In order to outpace our adversaries, we need longer legs,” Johnson said. “We’re able to accelerate capability delivery in this case by doing the low-rate production and the prototyping in-house.”

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